It has been widely reported that many law firms and other businesses are mandating people’s return to the office and/or reducing the level of remote and flexible working on offer – ultimately reducing the work-life balance that many had come to appreciate during the pandemic. A new global study by McKinsey & Company of 13.3k workers revealed that 40% of them found workplace flexibility a top motivator for staying in a role (just behind salary at 41%) and another recent study by YouGov revealed that over half of UK workers would quit their job if the option for remote working was removed. While it’s also been reported that remote job-searches have skyrocketed by 790% – a CIPD survey concluded that 10% of companies are planning to reduce pay and/or benefits for home workers and at least 4% have already done so.
Having established Harper James in 2014 as a law firm with a remote operating model and seeing 36% growth in people joining our firm in 2022 alone, I believe this move towards removing flexibility without good reason and penalising people financially for remote working is plainly wrong and incredibly short-sighted. People are experiencing a cost of living crisis, and many have concerns for their livelihood whereas businesses are facing a war for talent and should be focused on expanding and retaining their talent pool.
While excess office space may be an issue for businesses, it is entirely disproportionate to penalise staff for this and any such issue is within the control of those businesses and should be relatively short-lived. Equally, many firms are announcing record profits, so what message does this give to those affected by reduced pay?
The premise of reducing people’s pay and benefits because they work remotely is fundamentally flawed. Pay should be based on the individual’s value to the business, not where someone is working. If they’re paid less, would we expect them to deliver less value? I expect not. Similarly, measuring hours spent in the office (or working from home) doesn’t measure actual productivity. Professional services, and law firms in particular, have always been good at measuring time but not necessarily quality and productivity – and it’s about time we start measuring this properly and making decisions around pay and remuneration based on real productivity, output, and value to the business.
In my experience as the founder & CEO of Harper James, trusting people and giving them the opportunity to do interesting work and the ability to do it where and when they want fosters a mindset of mutual trust and respect – and I find that people who are treated in this way are far more likely to want to stay with the business. Retention of talent is absolutely crucial to delivering consistently high quality service to clients and achieving your business’ growth strategy.
Those who penalise their staff financially or even just make them feel any sense of guilt about working flexibly will alienate those people, which can have a very real impact on operational performance and quality of service. Creating a ‘them’ (home/flexible workers) and ‘us’ (office workers) environment is self-destructive and firms will pay dearly for it in the long run.
If firms want to make flexible and home working truly work for their business – it needs to be embraced with open arms and built into their operating model. As part of this, it’s imperative that the business enables its people, both office and remote workers, through effective technology and a solid and collaborative team culture. Hybrid working should be seen as an enabler rather than an obstacle so people are less likely to lose out on the three Cs – creativity, camaraderie and collaboration.
A version of this article was first published in Legal Practice Management in August 2022.